Learning Overload – My Last Day at #RWA13

My conference bag full to the brim with romance books
and covered in pins from the goody room

On the final day of the Romance Writers of America meeting I again went to….workshops.

More fabulous takeaways:

  • If your book is sagging in the middle, reveal a surprise or have a body show up. Put your character’s back against the wall.
  • Writing a sex scene for sex sake leads to reader skimming.  Readers want to read about a journey.
  • Writing about taboos (especially sexual ones) forces a character to face their fears and their erroneous beliefs about themselves.
  • When a character opens up their body to a taboo, they are also opening up a truly vulnerable part of their soul.
  • Erotica uses sex to illustrate a character’s fear and their journey in conquering that fear. When writing erotica, find a character who finds an act taboo and then force them to do it.
  • Write about things that YOU find sexy.  The act of writing should be as pleasurable for you as it is for the characters and your reader.
  • When writing erotica, choreography is important.  If you don’t have experience with a certain act or position, find an erotic video that shows it to you.  But don’t just research it, find out what’s sexy about it.  If you don’t find it sexy, neither will your reader.
  • Romance stories have a happily ever after or happy for now ending. Erotic romance pushes the boundaries sexually.  Erotica is about the main character’s sexual journey.  Porn is simply sex.
  • Writing taboo elements into your erotica can add heat to your stories as well as add to the plot and characterization.
  • If you have emotional stimulus and your character just thinks about it, then your reader will just think about it, too. If your character has a visceral response to stimulus, your reader will, too.
  • Setting should be a character in your story. It helps illustrate emotion, characterization, and conflict.
  • If you’re uncomfortable showing emotion when you write–get over it.  You will need that rollercoaster of emotion to keep your reader.  Don’t be afraid to show a tear-jerker moment.  Go over-the-top.  Your readers will love it.
  • No character (not even ones in Christian fiction) should be squeaky clean.  There’s no conflict there.
  • Titanic Tip:  Let the unthinkable happen to the unsinkable. This applies to the overall plot and to the character’s journey.
  • Strong emotions equal strong characters.  Emotions build conflict.
  • If a heroine is tough, make sure you establish why she’s tough and alternately juxtapose moments of tenderness against the toughness.
  • The goal/motivation/conflict of both the hero and heroine should be shown before the end of the first chapter of your book.
  • There must be a moment where the characters share what bad thing made them the way they are.
  • Know that a character’s strength is often also their weakness.  A leader is great at making decisions but terrible about consulting others on important issues.  A person who is self-reliant has a hard time asking others for help.
  • Show a character’s core strength early.  Even if the character is unaware of it, the other characters recognize it and react to it.
  • Characters can say one thing and think another, illustrating their doubts.  Or alternately, if they say the same thing twice in a row, your reader will know that the character is trying to convince themselves as well.
  • Be aware that when writing male characters, they have different likes/dislikes from women.  For example, they are rarely interested in the heroine’s shoes.  Beware of chicks with dicks syndrome where male characters are just thinly disguised female characters.
  • Write a scene from the point of view of the character that has the most to lose.
  • The first four paragraphs of your book should show characters to care about, the character’s main goal, the story genre, the setting, and the book’s main conflict.
  • Print out your story and read it while you’re in the tub.  If your mind begins to wander, then make a note and revise at that point.
  • Your 1st draft is for word count.  Your 2nd draft is where emotion is added and you firm up the characterization, the conflict, and the plot. Your 3rd draft is where you revise for pacing and intensity.
  • Gazes and breathing need to be cut.  Body parts cannot act on their own. Cut out the cliches!
  • Every 25K words, have a turning point.  A turning point can lead to a change in the relationship and raise the stakes. Turning points relate to character goals and affect conflict.  Turning points are a big surprise to your character.
  • What is it about your character that makes them the ONLY character that can tell your story.
  • Find whatever your character would never do and then make them do it.
  • According to Jude Deveraux, editors used to insist that the hero rape the heroine to prove his virility in the bad old days of bodice-rippers.  Jude refused to continue writing that and insisted that real heroes do not rape the women they love.
  • Humor in a book is what makes your reader laugh, not what makes your character laugh.
  • Make your hero and heroine meet as early in the book as possible.
  • Romance novels are the hardest books to write because once you’ve seen the cover you know how the book will end.
  • The opening of your book will sell the book, but the ending of the book will sell your next book.
  • Emotional symmetry is a great tool.  In the opening of your book have a character face a hard decision and make the easy choice that goes with their outward identity.  By the end of the book have your character back where they started and facing that same decision, but this time they make the hard choice, the one that is true to their inner self.
  • The best villains have someone in the book who loves them.  The scariest villain has something in common with the reader.
  • If you make a reader laugh, you can make them cry later in the book.

I skipped lunch to check out the Samhain book signing.  The publisher book signings are excellent.  Unlike the Literacy Autographing where you buy the books (because the money is going to charity), the book signings have authors from specific publishers all in one room and then you go from one to another to get free books and author autographs.  It’s smaller and you get more time with each of the authors. I picked up some great books and spoke to some really nice authors.

Around my last workshop I hit con-wall.  I’d heard about this from other attendees.  It’s when your brain is overloaded and refuses to absorb anything more.  I was even having a hard time tweeting.  But I persevered and was rewarded when at dinner, the bar had the televisions tuned to the Crossfit Games. Hubba hubba!

After the amazing Rita Ceremony where Eloisa James gave up her ancient chocolate Rita (which is a prize that was once given to nominees) for the real thing and Mary Jo Putney was her awesome self while accepting the lifetime achievement award, my new friends and I snuck into the Samhain party to scream over the loud music, laugh, and watch the dancers.  Unwilling to let go of the conference, a few of us congregated outside the party in chairs to decompress, discuss, and cling just a little longer to the amazing week we’d just experienced.

The next morning after only a couple hours of sleep, I packed up and in addition to my suitcase had one tote bag full of swag and four tote bags overflowing with books. Tired, happy, I was ready to head back home.

Thank you again RWA for a wonderful experience!  I learned so much and made so many new friends.  It was a truly transformative event.

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